Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Collaboration in Intellectual Property Management

This month we will be presenting a webinar on the collaboration capabilities of ANAQUA. Collaboration was a core design principle of the Anaqua solution from the very beginning, and today our clients collectively use ANAQUA as their platform to work among their hundreds and thousands of coworkers, outside law firms, agents and other professional service providers. Enhancements to Anaqua’s collaboration tools are a part of every new release. Collaboration, however, is about more than slick new technology.

In the business world, collaboration has emerged as a critical principle in management best practices. The practice of law, and in particularly work between in-house and outside counsel, is ripe for improved collaboration. Collaboration is also highly valuable for multi-office and geographically diverse law departments where legal professionals across the world must work together. Today, these new collaboration-centric work paradigms are well supported by both improved management approaches and new information technology tools that allow for better sharing of information and work product.

Collaboration, however, can present challenges in its reduction to practice. While exchanging documents - perhaps through email - is a form of basic collaboration, today's complex business environments require more sophisticated approaches. We find with our clients that defining, building and nurturing a collaborative organization involves a number of important, interrelated components.

First, and often most importantly, the foundation of collaboration starts with culture. Both social culture and a company's work culture are factors that must be given close consideration. While culture is not easily engineered, organizations benefit from understanding and embracing their unique cultural dynamics, and identifying how collaboration can fit their organization’s personality.

Another critical component of successful collaboration is a good understanding of the organization's business processes, and where collaboration can add value. The process should define the structure and workflows, and identify specific points where collaboration can positively impact the work. Documenting processes and opportunities for collaboration, along with the related policies, procedures and other written materials, allows stakeholders to understand the new collaborative environment. The principles of more open collaboration can often test historical mindsets that view work processes as more closed or insulated. Changes to these views must be handled with care and openly negotiated and accommodated in adopting collaboration-oriented ways of doing business. Importantly, training and other "how to" resources help establish, maintain and lock in the value of collaboration.

Finally, technology is often considered a cornerstone in bringing collaboration capabilities to the business. Technology provides the practical tools used by collaborators to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their work. The receptivity to new collaboration tools has vastly improved as users are increasingly comfortable and confident in Web 2.0 and social networking technologies which are now moving to the workplace. Technology, however, in itself is not a solution. Organizations should be careful to ensure that tools match both their culture and business processes. Capabilities such as web-based access, paperless records, electronic sharing of workfiles and projects, and task and workflow automation, are important collaboration tools. Also important is the ability to setup security with the flexibility to control users' access to information and functions. This control manages the potential risk, and overcomes objections, that can be associated with more open, collaborative work environments. A technology solution should be considered a platform to support improved collaboration.

Have you moved to a more collaborative work environment recently? I’d love to hear your experiences and advice.